Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Hamilton man pleads guilty

Ketterer hopes to avoid death sentence by admission

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Hoping to avoid a possible death sentence, a 54-year-old man pleaded guilty to killing Lawrence B. Sanders, 85, who "was like a grandfather to him," attorney J. Gregory Howard said.

Ketterer, of Hamilton, pleaded guilty to five charges Tuesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court: aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, burglary and grand theft of a motor vehicle.

The charges stemmed from Sanders' slaying last February.

Sanders, a 5-foot-5-inch, 140-pound bachelor who lived alone, was beaten with a skillet and tortured with scissors and a knife, officials said. His Shuler Avenue home was ransacked and his 1995 Pontiac Grand Am was stolen, banged into a garage and abandoned with the keys still inside.

"We think it's to our advantage to demonstrate contrition by pleading guilty," said co-counsel Chris Pagan.

Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper said Pagan and Howard, court-appointed to handle the case, "made some choices based on strategy" - which is what they are supposed to do to defend their client.

Pagan and Howard said they hope their client's last-minute guilty pleas - and other evidence about their client's troubled past - will help spare Ketterer from the death penalty.

Ketterer suffered from multiple drug addictions and was under the influence of drugs when he attacked Sanders - a man Ketterer had known since boyhood, Howard said.

Ketterer, who is indigent, is still waiting to receive results of DNA tests that cost taxpayers $19,000. The tests - comparing samples from Ketterer and hairs from Sanders' hand - cost $13,700 more than they should have because of a paperwork mix-up.

It was unclear Tuesday whether the test results would be introduced as evidence, Ketterer's lawyers said.

A trio of judges - Patricia Oney, Michael J. Sage and Matthew Crehan - is expected to decide today whether to accept Ketterer's guilty pleas and whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence to support the pleas.

If the judges accept Ketterer's pleas, they could choose one of four possible sentences on the aggravated murder charge: 25 years to life, 30 years to life, life without parole or execution.

He also faces up to 261/2 years on the other charges.

A female spectator in the courtroom Tuesday, identified only as a relative of Sanders, declined to comment after Ketterer pleaded.


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